Next four days will define Ange's Celtic revolution

4 weeks ago 15
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Doubters have become believers. Voiced concerns have been replaced by songs of worship. The man from Melbourne might be leading the Scottish giants back to the promised land. 

They say a week is a long time in football, but what former Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou has done in the six weeks since he was appointed Celtic manager is incredible. 

Watch the second leg of Celtic and Rangers UEFA Europa League play-off qualifiers this Friday morning live, ad-free and on-demand on Stan Sport. Click here to sign up!

Celtic Manager Ange Postecoglu celebrats his side making it 3-0 against St Mirren. (SNS Group via Getty Images)

The Hoops are on a six game winning streak under the Aussie, scoring 24 goals and conceding just four in that time. 

However the next four days will be the true test to see how far Postecoglou's under-resourced team has come and will set the tone for the rest of the season. 

First up is the second leg of the Europa League play-off against Dutch side AZ Alkmaar on Friday morning - which you can watch live and exclusive on Stan from 4:05am (AEST).

Celtic hold a 2-0 lead from the first leg in Glasgow but will have to travel to the Netherlands to secure their passage to the Europa League group stage. As long as they don't lose by two goals or more they will receive a minimum of $5.9million (AUD) in prize money for qualifying for the Europa League group stage. 

In that group stage Celtic could potentially be up against big name opponents like England's Leicester City and West Ham United, Spain's Real Sociedad and Real Betis, Italy's Napoli and Lazio. 

Postecoglou has always relished testing himself against the best and success on Friday morning would lead him to face off against some iconic teams in historical stadiums. 

"This is the next opportunity for us to guarantee ourselves some opportunities for some big European nights, to take on some of the biggest clubs in Europe," Postecoglou said in the pre-match press conference.

"This gives us an opportunity to try to build something special for this year and beyond, so it's an important fixture because of that, and the players are looking forward to that sort of contest where you know that if you get through it, then that opens up more possibilities to do something special."

Celtic's Kyogo Furuhashi shakes hands with manager Ange Postecoglou. (PA Images via Getty Images)

But if you think Celtic are going to sit back and try to defend their 2-0 lead in what will be a hostile atmosphere, think again. 

"If we go there and try to defend for 90 minutes, I just think you're asking for trouble," Postecoglou said. "They are a good team and we know at home they're going to be playing fairly high-tempo and high-intensity football to score goals, so if we sit back, we are just going to invite pressure on ourselves.

"I think our best football is going the other way, going forward and if we score goals, it puts more pressure on the opposition. We won't change our approach as it's the best strategy for us."

However even if Celtic are successful against AZ, they won't be able to celebrate for too long as they have the biggest game of their domestic season on Sunday night (AEST) when they take on arch-rivals Rangers at Ibrox stadium. 

It is difficult to overstate how strong the rivalry is between these two clubs. They have been battling each other for over 130 years and the two teams and their supporters are often not only divided by club loyalty but also religion, politics, national identity and social ideology. It is one of the fiercest rivalries in all of world sport that has often led to violence between fans on the pitch, in the stands and away from the grounds. 

"The Old Firm has got to be one of the biggest derbies ever," Socceroos legend Mark Viduka, who played at Celtic for two years in the late 1990s, said.

"The atmosphere, I have never felt that sort of an atmosphere anywhere and I have played a lot of derbies in the UK and here (Zagreb) but that derby is all-out emotion from all sides.

"As a player, you cannot even communicate with the other players on the field."

Celtic Manager Ange Postecoglou during a Champions League qualifier between Celtic and FC Midtjylland at Celtic Park. (SNS Group via Getty Images)

Postecoglou is creating a revolution at Celtic in the way they play. The former A-League and NSL champion doesn't want his team to fear anyone, never to take a backwards step, always wanting the ball and always looking to get forward. 

It's entertaining football, no doubt, but it carries with it a lot of risk. The more you push forward, the more you're left exposed at the back. 

For it to be successful, there must be buy-in from the players, the fans and the upper management. With every victory, belief has grown. However, should Celtic lose these next two matches, serious doubts will grow - internally and externally. The flip-side is that should they win these matches, Postecoglou will be hailed as a genius and world football will take notice of his incredible early success. 

The whole of Scotland is focused on Sunday's match, but Postecoglou knows that the match on Friday is just as important. 

"I just can't look beyond AZ at the moment," Postecoglou said this week. "That's such a big game for us, for our season really. We want to be in the Europa League and we've got a good opportunity to do that.

"Everyone's excited about it (the match with Rangers) but the next fixture's the one I'm looking at."

The odds were stacked against the Aussie coach this season. Celtic had just come off their worst season in over a decade, there was little money available to sign new players and the fans were furious at the board for appointing a coach that had nearly no experience in Europe. 

"The supporters really didn't know much about him but they're learning fast what he's all about," former Celtic legend and Socceroos striker Scott McDonald told Bein Sports this week.

"There was a lot of negativity around his appointment, which was down to a little bit of naivety in terms of people not realising what he'd done at Yokohama and with Australia.

"But in a very short space of time he's been able to turn around that perception and bring a feel-good factor back to the club." 

What's also been very pleasing for Aussie football fans is the return to form of Socceroos midfielder Tom Rogic who plays for Celtic. 

Tom Rogic holds off Dani de Wit during Celtic's firlt leg victory over AZ Alkmaar in their UEFA Europa League qualifier. (SNS Group via Getty Images)

"I'd love to think I am guy that walks around with a halo above his head and gives off a glow that everyone loves, but for Tom it was more about feeling good about himself again, getting his body right, (and) playing the football that he can play," Postecoglou said to the Scottish media this week. 

If Postecoglou leads the club to victories in these next two games, Celtic fans really will think he has a halo around his head. 

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